Home-made compost is a winner on so many levels; little wonder few serious gardeners would be without a heap. The perfect way to get the best out of your plants by improving the soil, compost makes use of otherwise waste material and it’s cheap to get started. The best news? It’s really easy to make – here’s how…
What you need to make compost
To the novice, making compost can can appear a complicated art with talk of heap temperatures and the perfect mix of ingredients. In reality, composting is easy. It simply harnesses natural decomposition and is open to anyone, regardless of the size of their plot.
Like much in gardening, composting can be practised on many different levels from the very basic to the more complex where copious amounts are produced in a short time. The equipment also varies from self-contained plastic containers, nicknamed ‘Daleks’, to large, open bins. These can be homemade – mine were built from old pallets – or bought as slatted, wooden kits.
If you have a very small garden, you can buy a rotating bin on legs that takes up very little space and is easy to move if required. How much kitchen and garden waste you have, and how you want to use the compost will determine which is best.
Surprisingly, some people don’t use their compost on their flowers and veg, but just let it rot down, so one bin is enough. If you want to use your compost, then at least two bins will be necessary to allow one to mature while the next is being filled. Most gardeners end up with three or more. They should be sited in somewhere that’s not too shady but not in direct sunlight. ‘Daleks’ can be stood on aviary wire to prevent rodents getting in, or bought complete with a base.
What items can be composted?
When it comes to what can be composted, the list is long and varied. From the kitchen, there are uncooked vegetable peelings, fruit skins, the outer leaves of cabbages, out-of-date salad and even eggshells, providing they’re ground down first. I also add used coffee grounds to the pile. Cooked foods, meat, fish and dairy should not be used.
Out in the garden, anything that isn’t diseased can be composted, although I’m wary of adding thugs such as bindweed and horsetail due to the high temperatures needed to ensure their destruction. Also avoid putting in weeds that have already set seed and don’t add nettle roots as they will take hold.
Prunings should be chopped up as small as possible or put through a shredder but don’t be too obsessive about this as anything that doesn’t completely break down can be sieved out of the finished compost and returned to the heap. Larger pieces also create air pockets in the compost bin, helping to prevent the rotting mass becoming wet and slimy.
Indeed, the key to good compost is getting a balance between ‘green’ material, such as annual weeds and veg, and drier ‘brown’ ingredients. Shredded paper and thin, unwaxed cardboard – toilet rolls are perfect – should be added to heaps, aiming for a 50-50 split.
How to make the best compost
To make the best compost, add your ‘green’ and ‘brown’ material in layers, particularly if grass clippings are to be included as these can quickly turn into a sodden mass.
I line my small kitchen waste compost bucket with old newspaper, which keeps the bucket cleaner and ensures that some brown material is added to the heap with every load of vegetable peelings.
Don’t add autumn leaves but use them to make leaf mould, either in a cage made of chicken wire or black plastic bags that have a few holes in them.
Keeping compost heaps aerated is important and can be done by forking it over, or by moving it from one bin to another. In hot weather, it may need watering to prevent the mix drying out. In winter, a plastic cover should be put over to protect it from rain and keep the temperature up.
How long does it take to make compost?
It can take anything from six months to two years to make compost, but it’s well worth the wait. You’ll know it’s ready when it is dark and crumbly – often described as looking like fruit cake – and sweet-smelling. Anything that hasn’t rotted down can simply be put back to continue the process.
Making compost is cheap, easy and will hugely improve the quality of your soil. If you haven’t already tried, give it a go. Your plants will love it.